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UNG student creates movie magic
Luke Pilgrim prepares to release first professional film
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Director Luke Pilgrim, second from left, and producer Brad Kennedy, right, review film footage with actors Ryan Littmann and Tamara Morton while on set of "The Apology Service." It is Pilgrim's first professional movie.

For more information on "The Apology Service" short, visit www.facebook.com/TheApologyServiceMovie.

Luke Pilgrim is always thinking about the future.

In December, the 26-year-old plans to graduate from the University of North Georgia and start his career as a filmmaker. But not before he premieres his first professional film, “The Apology Service.”

Set in the near future, the  40-minute or less short is about the disconnect among adults and their avoidance of difficult situations.

“I had this general idea of an apology service, a company that you hire to apologize in your stead,” Pilgrim said. “It’s sort of poking fun at our detachment and taking it a little deeper.”

“The Apology Service” centers on one of the best apologists, a man named Jackson, played by Ryan Littmann. Pilgrim met him while playing music with his band, the Last November. The two reconnected over the film, and Littmann fell in love with the role.

“When I read the script for the first time, I teared up at the right parts, I got angry at the right parts, and it was something new,” the Commerce native said. “I got really into the character. I even started using some of his lines in everyday life.”

“The Apology Service” follows Littmann’s character through a series of apology jobs, ranging from apologies in homes to conversations with coworkers. Eventually the lead character, Jackson, realizes he wants real relationships with people.

“It really makes you think about honesty and sincerity and being open and forthcoming with people,” Littmann said. “Those things are really hard to do, but they make relationships more valuable.”

Making of a movie

The idea for “The Apology Service” started out as a school project. Pilgrim came up with the concept in October 2014 for his senior show. He pitched the idea to Brad Kennedy, a fellow UNG film student, who jumped on board and helped create the film.

“But we wanted it to be more of a launching pad for us to use after graduation,” Pilgrim said.

Therefore, once the script was written, the duo looked for a way to fund the endeavor.

The two students created a profile on a crowdfunding site, hoping to raise $5,000 to pay for “The Apology Service.”

“When we started on Kickstarter, we got about $1,500 in one day,” Pilgrim said.

After that promising first day, Kennedy and Pilgrim became nervous.

“Over the next week, it began to slow down,” Kennedy, 22, said. “We would go through days where we didn’t get anything.”

The pair hoped to secure enough money even if supporters pulled out. Near the end of the 30-day fundraiser, Pilgrim and Kennedy were worried they would not meet their goal.

“With five hours left, someone withdrew their donation, and it put us just under our mark,” Pilgrim said. “We ended up texting everyone, telling them if they were planning to donate to do it now.”

Apparently everyone responded. The film reached its goal plus $600, much to Pilgrim and Kennedy’s relief. When filming was finished, the pair was on budget and ready to combine the shots in post-production.

The short film was shot in locations around North Georgia, from UNG campus buildings to family homes in Cleveland and a modern house in Buford. In fact, the Newton Oaks Center, science buildings and libraries on UNG’s campus are prominently featured as well as locales off campus such as a former bank and old church.

However, Kennedy and Pilgrim disguised the buildings to create a futuristic setting for Jackson’s life.

“They’re shot in a way where it looks like another world,” Pilgrim said. “You don’t even recognize the buildings.”

Finding a home for the character Jackson proved challenging. None of the homes in Dahlonega seemed modern enough for his lifestyle or the setting.

“It’s not like being in Atlanta where there are apartments or condos,” Pilgrim said, explaining he reached out to a person from his band who had friends in Buford. “We went to see their house (in Buford) and it was perfect.”

The black, white and red modern home suited clean cut, distant Jackson and his best friend, AL-X , a robot. The small, white machine was not part of the original script but a welcomed addition.

“We were just talking and said ‘What if his best friend is a robot?’ as a joke,” Kennedy said. “Then we started thinking about it and we said ‘That actually might work.’”

Developing characters

AL-X lives at home with Jackson, greeting him when he arrives from work each day. The robot acts as a pseudo butler and portrays Jackson’s only companion.

Littmann was invested in creating chemistry between Jackson and the machine to make the relationship as convincing as possible.

“I realized that I’m definitely kind of a method actor,” Littmann said. “I realized that I wanted to have AL-X with me all the time.”

Littmann noted he talked to AL-X on a regular basis at home and on set. He even took AL-X with him when he was on the road.

“We were shooting in Cleveland — and AL-X wasn’t even in the scene — I asked Luke if I could take him with me,” Littmann said. “I wondered if people could see me driving and talking to him.”

Littmann’s investment made the film “100 times” better, Pilgrim said. Littmann questioned Pilgrim and Kennedy throughout the film to fully understand the lead character.

Littmann learned his character will go the extra mile to convince his clients he is genuine. Jackson adapts to each situation by reading what the person needs to believe his apology.

“In one scene, I’m supposed to be doing an apology, and I’m faking the emotion,” Littmann said. “So I turn around to squirt some eye drops into my eyes and make it look like I’m crying. I made a face at the camera and then when I turned around I was just sobbing with this lady.”

Littmann was not alone in his commitment to the movie. The cast and crew were just as invested.

“This was the first time that we had a real cast,” Pilgrim said. “It was amazing, because they cared about the project as much as we do. It became everyone’s film. They believed in the story.”

Finalizing the production

“The Apology Service” will reveal its moving parts of the story when it is shown at Pilgrim and Kennedy’s senior showcase in the fall semester at UNG. After a year in the making, the pair agreed the movie is not an excellent final project — it is an excellent film.

“The whole time, this never felt like a student film,” Kennedy said. “It was always very professional, and it was funny to think back and remember that this is technically a student film.”

The pair pointed out starting early on the process and using many resources made the project as good as possible. The extra time and effort will ensure the film is ready to be judged in the show.

“Our hope is that we can make the standards, the rubric, conform to us,” Kennedy said. “If we had made the film with a grade in mind, it would have killed some of the creativity.”

Even though filming is complete, Pilgrim plans to add some final touches. The well-known musician will record a soundtrack for the film to add the emotion and movement he desires in the right places.

“I dabble in a little bit of everything,” he said. “I’m really a guitar player, but when you’re in a band, you learn some of all of the instruments. I have a recording studio, so I will be doing a lot of the music from there.”

Once the soundtrack is complete and added, “The Apology Service” will be ready for its debut. After the senior show, Pilgrim and Kennedy plan to hold a larger premiere for the cast, crew, fans and supporters.

“We definitely want to do something bigger, like a real premiere,” Pilgrim said. “We want to invite everyone and have a big celebration in November.”

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